Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Which Bible is the Correct One?

Someone recently posed a great question:  "How do we know which version of the Bible is the correct version?"

The questioner was actually referring to the New Testament and unfortunately, it's not an easy answer.  The history of Christianity is so mired in distancing the faith from Judaism, employing institutional and individual bias, and intentional misrepresentation of scripture, it's truly hard to find a Bible with a New Testament true to the original manuscripts. In fact, most Bibles are copyrighted and for a Bible to be copyrighted it must be “be substantially and creatively different” from any other Bible.  (Think about that!) So what does a reader do?

In a nutshell, we must read the New Testament with a mindset that keeps our hearts open to question the validity of what we are reading. For example, we should always ask: "Does a verse, phrase or set of verses contradict Torah?"  If so, then the text must be wrong and we need to go seek the truth.  That means one needs a very solid and sound understanding of the Old Testament, of which too many Christians today have been told to "ignore" since it's "only for the Jews", or "has been done away with". Yet, at the time of Jesus, the Old Testament (properly, the Tanakh), was the only scripture known and all references in the New Testament are therefore from Torah, the prophets, and the writings contained in the Tanakh! Without knowledge of the Tanakh, the reader of the New Testament really has no idea what Jesus is teaching.

So the first thing is to be grounded in the Old Testament.  Then the 2nd thing is read the "front matter" in the Bible of your choice.  Good Bibles will always have a "front matter" section, 30-50 pages or so, in which the author, compilers, or editors state how they went about producing their version and how they dealt with their own bias, and the bias of the source manuscripts used in their translation. (Unfortunately, with so many Bibles available these days in a digital or on-line format, the front matter is usually not present which, sadly, makes this not possible!) At least by understanding the methodology of the Bible's translator, editor, or compiler, one can read the text with foreknowledge of potential pitfalls. 

Third, is to actively compare versions.

Comparing versions will often reveal errors, additions and bias between versions.  Take for example the known false story of Jesus telling the adulterer in John 7:53-8:11 to "Go and sin no more".  Think about that! The woman was, in fact, guilty as charged but according to these scriptures her sin was dismissed without consequence. This is something Jesus would never have said if the woman was guilty, for Torah provides specific rules for handling the incident! (In reality, Torah requires that both parties involved in adultery be brought up on charges together and in the presence of their accusers, as well as with any witnesses and the elders of the community, none of which was done in these verses.)  Clearly the verses were added, apparently to bias the reader that somehow Jesus had forgiven adultery! But keen knowledge of Torah immediately reveals the ruse! While many English Bibles simply include these verses in John, some, remove them or at least point out that these verses were added.

Fourth, never take a verse by itself as expressing some "fact" without reading the context! For example, many Christians read Acts 11 and conclude by verses 6-7 that Peter is told that any animal is now okay to eat.  But by reading the chapter in context, verses 4-18, one ultimately finds that the whole point was not that God had made all animals "clean" to eat, rather, the point was that God had extended the Kingdom to gentiles. (God had rendered gentiles “clean”.)  We know that Peter already understood which animals could be eaten, and which could not, otherwise he would not have argued with the Spirit that he would never eat "treif" (unclean) (verse 8).  Thus, the context clears up this common Christian misconception.

Finally, and I can't emphasize it enough, when reading the NT, if the text is correct but it sounds like a contradiction to Torah, then it is a red flag that it is one's understanding that is likely wrong, and not necessarily the text. This is because, in addition to blatant bias, language itself skews the meaning of countless verses. Realize that the New Testament was translated from an original tongue, probably Hebrew/Aramaic to Greek then to Latin then to English, or at a minimum from Greek to English.  It goes without saying that a word in English simply will not convey the same meaning as the word in its original language!  For example, take Hebrews 8:13.

In many translations, Hebrews 8:13 reads: "In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away."  To the English reader, this sounds like the "New Covenant" made the "Old Covenant" go away.  And that "old covenant" is assumed to be "The Law" (Torah).  But a careful understanding of the verse reveals that the author of Hebrews was referring to Jeremiah 31:31-34, and the "new covenant" does not refer to any "replacement" of Torah, rather, it instead explains that what is "growing old is ready to vanish away" is the the sinful nature of man that breaks Torah, not the standard of Torah.  This must be the case, otherwise it would not make sense when Jeremiah said " 'For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Isra'el after those days,' says Adonai: 'I will put my Torah within them and write it on their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people.' " (Jeremiah 31:33).  Jeremiah clearly says that it is the people who would be changed, not the standard of Torah.  The author of Hebrews understood this, but his meaning is largely lost in English.

So the "correct" Bible is the one that the reader internalizes by taking the time to grow in their knowledge of God so they can recognize when something is "not right" in the version they are reading.  In other words, since there is no "correct" version of the Bible out there, it is up to each reader to take the time to learn who God is, and that leads us to the ability to discern the scriptures as we have them, flaws and all.

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